Executives Share Examples of Strengths, Weaknesses of Chamber Industry

If a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis was done for the chamber industry, what would you expect to be the biggest strength and the biggest weakness of the chamber industry and why do you think that way?

Diane Schwenke
President/CEO
Grand Junction Area (CO) Chamber

The chamber industry’s biggest strength is its ability to problem solve for a wide spectrum of businesses in a particular geographic area. The constant for any chamber is the local business community, but the programming can vary according to a business community’s most pressing needs, from advocacy at city hall to workforce development to economic development and tourism efforts. And priorities can shift over time as new problems arise and aging problems no longer need attention.

The chamber industry’s biggest weakness is mission creep. Because the organization is shaped by its members’ needs, it can sometimes get pulled into too many projects, too many areas that overload its limited resources, resulting in mediocre results and outcomes. A laser-like focus on who the customer is and how to best serve them in an ever-changing environment is hard, but necessary. We can’t be all things to all members.

Glenn Morris, ACE
President/CEO
Santa Maria Valley (CA) Chamber

If a SWOT analysis was done on the chamber industry as a whole, I believe the big picture would be one of optimism, given the strengths and opportunities that would be listed. In the strengths quadrant, I’d expect to see references to the deep credibility that our industry continues to enjoy, the talent of many of the professionals who work in chambers now, and the good work being done by key local chambers and industry organizations like W.A.C.E. and Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives to evolve our industry into one that is about action, results and impact.

An obvious entry in the weakness quadrant would be that too many chamber executives and boards are still afraid to break away from their traditional roles and programs. Personally, though, I’d list things like the lack of a clearly defined career pathway for chamber staff and the fragmented/competitive makeup of our industry. In too many places, chambers are competing with neighbors rather than collaborating, and in too many chambers, we not only have to continually orient new board members and staff, but also senior executives and CEOs.

Guy Occhiogrosso
President/CEO
Bellingham (WA) Regional Chamber

Our greatest strength is the creation of community and connections—our ability as organizations to develop and facilitate the important conversations in our communities.

Our greatest weakness is our inability to be nimble. We often hear the excuse that “we have always done it this way.” My assumption is that most have used this at some point, because change is hard and more change more frequently is even harder (and exhausting). As chamber professionals, we should be seeking systems that allow us to be nimble while ever focusing on our greatest strength of stronger connections and engagement.

A widely used chamber cliché is that “if you have seen one chamber, you have seen one chamber.” My thought is that if we are all doing our job well, this notion holds true—especially in what we are doing.

Debbie Braun, IOM, CDME
President/CEO
Aspen (CO) Chamber Resort Association

Our biggest strength would be building business community through advocacy and networking. We have all the tools to be successful in bringing stakeholders together for positive community change.

Our biggest weakness would be innovation. We tend to be the keepers of historical knowledge, and at times that gets in the way of innovative discovery. All too often I hear from board members, members and the community—“the reason that won’t work…” We need to learn to reframe the conversation.

Andrew Mayer
President/CEO
Mount Vernon (WA) Chamber

The biggest strength of the chamber industry is our ability to make connections between people and use those relationships to assist businesses and improve our communities.

Our biggest weakness is our reluctance to change, and fear of being bold. Borrowing directly from the Serenity Prayer, chamber leaders need the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Bret Schanzenbach
President/CEO
Carlsbad (CA) Chamber

In my opinion, the industry’s biggest strength would be its relevance and reputation with established city, civic and community leadership. Those who have been in leadership know the value the chamber brings to any community.

Conversely, the biggest weakness would be the same thing (chamber’s relevance and reputation), but with the young professionals of the world. They have other means of networking and every industry has its own association for advocacy. Thus, many of the young entrepreneurs and business leaders have no idea what a chamber has to offer a community and don’t know the broader value of a chamber.